The meaning of sex

I wrote about my conversation with Alison and Tim the other day. It occurred to me that, on some level, the conversation we were having was, ultimately, one about the meaning of sex.

The standard narrative about the meaning of sex goes something like this: “Sex is something two people who love each other share with one another, as a celebration of, a way of deepening, their relationship.”

But surely, this isn’t the truth for most of us. (And by “us,” I don’t just mean people reading and writing sex blogs.) I would wager that the vast majority of sexual acts take place outside of the context of marriage, or even committed relationships. This isn’t a scientific claim, I have no data to back up my view. But in my pre-CPOS days, I think I was pretty… average. I had had sex with something like 20 or 30 women when I met my wife. (Call that an average of 2-3 women/year, from loss of virginity.) Of those, two – TWO – had been women to whom I spoke the words, “I love you.” I lost my virginity in a three-night-long one-night stand. Certainly, the vast majority of the sex I had prior to marriage was outside of the context of long-term committed relationships. And this was true of the women I bedded, as well as the men who preceded me with them, and my many male friends.

OKCupid is filled with people whose profiles inspire a sort of cognitive dissonance in me: these people check off the “casual sex” box, and they check off the “single” box – as in, I’m looking for casual sex, but only with someone who doesn’t, by virtue of her/his marital status, prevent me from genuflecting to the notion that the sex might lead to some sort of committed relationship. Maybe these people mean something different: maybe, they mean, “I don’t want to fuck around with someone who’s cheating on her/his spouse.”

But I don’t think so. At least not in the majority of cases.

We hold this fantasy – that sex is, or at least it should be, a marker of developing emotional intimacy with at least the possibility of lifelong commitment – pretty deeply. And the alternative, the somewhat (to me) dystopian swinger version of this is, “Sex is like shaking hands – something we do with just about anyone, that reflects limited intimacy, but provides social, and sensual, stimulation.”

I’m at neither of these extremes. Though I call myself a slut, I won’t fuck a woman I don’t like, and I strongly prefer sex with women I know and like a lot to sex with hot women I’ve never met. In all my adventures at Le Trapeze, or at other sex parties, I’ve had sex with strangers only a handful of times. And none of them was particularly good.

To me, sex is emotionally intimate, it is something I reserve for those I like, toward whom I have warm feelings, and then some. But it’s not (just) the be-all and the end-all of romantic relationships.

Why does that make people (like Tim, who shifted uncomfortably in his chair when I said, “All men pay for sex once in a while”) so uncomfortable?

This song, which played a big role in one of those two “I love you” relationships, came on while I was writing this.

One comment

  1. You’re last remark brought me back to a question your life trajectory raised for me : Do you think that it might have had something to do with a feeling that, somehow, by paying for sex, you weren’t really cheating on your wife? It was different from fucking someone who you wanted and who wanted you? And that maybe, that could have been why, though you felt bad after those paying encounters, you kept going? A way of satisfying your needs without feeling guilty towards your spouse?
    I know, it might not have had anything to do with what you felt at the time, it’s just ideas that came to me… :-/

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